He's the unofficial flag bearer for Negaunee's Eastwood Nursing Center, but he's the official last surviving Pearl Harbor veteran in Marquette County. Ninety-three-year-old Merton Holman remembers the Japanese attacks that took place 70 years ago as if they were yesterday.
"It doesn't seem very long ago," said Holman. "It's still all right here; it's in you all the time."
Holman and his older brother, Gordon, were deployed to Hawaii when they were only 21, and just six months into their service, the Japanese struck on that fateful December 7. Merton was in the washroom about 80 yards away from the airfield during the strike. When he stepped outside, he says he was overcome with fear.
"Leaves you breathless, you almost go immobile like you can't hardly move," Holman explained.
Holman found refuge in a nearby river bed ditch. How he survived..."Luck, lots of luck," he said.
Still, like so many soldiers at Pearl Harbor, Merton didn't get out completely unscathed. His best friend, John Sauter, died rescuing two pilots from a downed Navy dive bomber. The bomb was on the ground and they got the flyers out; they had to get by the bomb, but it went off before they got by it. Holman's best friend never leaves his mind, literally. He's pinned to his cap in the form of a memorial flower.
After the attack on Pearl Harbor, Merton spent five years in the service, two as a plane spotter at a submarine base and three as a switchboard operator at Ford Island.
Pearl Harbor certainly changed Merton's life, but it doesn't define him. He's a proud Yooper-born fisherman and a father whose legacy will live on through his Negaunee raised family.
For now you'll find Merton proudly waving his flag around Eastwood Nursing Center, but his ultimate plans are not to be flag bearer forever. Next November he hopes to be out in the woods in what he calls his paradise...hunting for deer.